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What is distracted driving?

Data Blocks
Data Blocks

Distracted driving describes any situation in which a driver’s attention is not fully focused on the road and the safe operation of their vehicle. There are three main types of distracted driving (manual, visual and cognitive) that can all result in a major safety threat not only to drivers, but to everyone who shares the road with them.

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Distracted driving is a serious problem affecting the road industry of Australia. Whether you're in transport & logistics, not-for-profit fleet or construction, it has been the cause of many accidents over the years, yet fortunately there are measures fleet managers, operators and drivers can take to minimise distracted driving.  

What are the different types of distracted driving?

There are three main types of distractions that affect drivers: manual, visual and cognitive.  

  • Manual distractions cause drivers to take one or both hands off the wheel to manipulate an object not directly related to the safe operation of their vehicle, like eating food or drinking water while driving.
  • Visual distractions are anything causing drivers to move their eyes away from the road or their driving instruments, such as reading driving directions, scrolling through the radio stations or looking at something along the side of the road. 
  • Cognitive distractions divert a driver’s mental focus away from the road. Examples include talking on the phone while driving (even with a hands-free device), talking to a passenger, driving while emotionally distressed or daydreaming. 

Of course, many - perhaps most - distracted driving behaviors are a combination of the categories above. A perfect example of this is texting while driving, which is one of the biggest contributors to distracted driving in our modern world. This action requires manual, visual and cognitive attention. Our Safety Analytics Solution gives fleet owners and operators the opportunity to track poor driver behaviors, many of which are related to distractions. 

How does distracted driving affect the transport industry?

Distracted driving is a serious problem for the transport industry as there’s a strong link between distracted driving and truck incidents. According to FMCSA research, about 80 percent of truck incidents involved some type of driver distraction in the three-second window leading up to the crash. Since fatal truck incidents are on the rise, it stands to reason distracted driving is behind a significant portion of deadly crashes.

Yet incidents harm fleets in more ways than driver injuries or deaths: they also hurt the bottom line. According to the Road Safety Commission, 26 fatalities in 2016 were a result of inattention (double the previous 5 year average). Their research has found that 90% of Western Australian drivers know texting while driving is dangerous yet 57% still irregularly or regularly offend. The safest option is turn off your mobile phone when you get behind the wheel. A distracted driver puts themselves, their passengers and other road users in significant danger. Mobile phones, activity on the road side, eating and drinking can all distract a driver. Keep your eyes on the road to ensure the safety of your loved ones and others. Using a mobile phone while driving will automatically result in a $400 and 3 demerit points, which can further result in disqualification for repeat offenders. 

Finally, since distracted driving is linked to other poor driving behaviours like harsh braking and speeding, the wasted fuel and higher risk of mechanical problems resulting from those behaviours means additional costs for fleets. 

How can truck drivers and fleet managers minimise distracted driving?

Consider the hardship of a truck driver – their work can keep them up all night, covering long distances, and often in difficult conditions. Shifts can be punishing. As a result, trucks can be both a perceived and real danger to other road users. According to federal government figures, 212 people died in crashes involving heavy vehicles in Australia in the year to June 2017. Deaths involving articulated trucks rose 7.3 per cent in the same year. 

What can you do? As a fleet owner, it’s important to communicate to your drivers exactly what distracted driving looks like - even if it seems obvious, especially when it involves behaviours drivers may see as ordinary or even necessary, like eating behind the wheel. Regular training is also key. Of course, truck drivers all undergo extensive training before getting their licenses, yet with experience and professional success often comes the impression they can handle multi-tasking while on the road. That’s why it’s crucial that training be an ongoing part of a driver’s career, and that includes fleet coaching their drivers on safe driving behaviours.

One way to do this is through our Driver Safety Scorecard, a customisable platform that easily tracks driver performance and gives an objective platform to easily spot drivers who are not performing safely, track whether behaviour is improving or worsening and assess insurance liabilities by risk level. Video solutions like a dashboard camera, also part of our Safety Analytics Solution, offer the opportunity to replay unsafe events for more effective coaching as drivers often do not realise what they did wrong in a particular incident.

The truth is, driving demands total concentration and focus at all times, not only in adverse conditions (like bad weather or rush hour traffic) when drivers most keenly feel the need to apply themselves. Since emergencies are unexpected by nature, drivers can never predict when they may be involved in an accident. That’s why being aware of distracted driving behaviours and actively avoiding them helps create good habits, priming drivers and your fleets for optimal driving behaviour.

Watch our video series on building a safety culture